Don't just apply to college… Position yourself.

Waiting for the “Fat Envelope”

“The waiting is the hardest part.” – Tom Petty.

mailboxboyUnless your high school student was accepted to his or her first choice college through Early Decision or Early Action, your family is probably still in waiting mode. Your student may receive some Regular Decision notifications by mid-March. But the final information, including many colleges’ notification, merit scholarships and need-based financial aid packages, arrive around the first of April (why does it have to be April Fool’s Day?). Enrollment deposits are due on the universal decision date of May 1.

mailboxhorizontalThis waiting game has pros and cons versus. the early notification wait in December. The December wait has a white-knuckle, all-or-nothing feel to it. Applicants often apply to only a few (or one) college in the fall, so disappointing news has less of a chance to be buoyed by good news. However, there is still a feeling of a “second chance” in the upcoming spring semester. The high school senior still has time to apply to plenty of schools, perhaps adjusting expectations more realistically this time. He or she may be able to take standardized tests once more to improve credentials for Regular Decision.

girlwithenvelopeSpring is different. Your teen will be able to see all the results of his or her efforts. Disappointments are counterbalanced by gratifying results. Your family will also be receiving news about how much your child’s college education is going to cost, which may be a key factor in determining the final college choice. The college process is finally coming to an end. Your student has laid down his or her hand now, exhausted the senior year options. This sense of finality offers a relief. He has likely sent in enough applications so something will work out. If, God forbid, none of the options are sufficiently appealing, nothing is irrevokeable. Many undergraduates end up transferring for a variety of reasons  (not predictable now). Most will ultimately find a fulfilling college experience.

But what if it’s “not quite over” by April 1? In this post, I will address three typical “uncertain” situations, with excellent perspective from Admission Matters: What Students and Parents Need to Know About Getting Into College by Sally S. Springer, Jon Reider & Marion R. Franck.

motherconsoleinwhite1. You student has been wait listed at his first choice college.What does that mean? The authors explain: “Being placed on a wait list means that your file will be considered again if the college has fewer acceptances than it anticipated when mailing out offers of admission. Because no college gets a yes from every admitted student, they will accept more than they can accomodate. On the basis of past experience, they calculate an estimated yield from their offers. Then they wait until after the May 1 deadline to see how many students send in their deposits.” (Springer et al, p. 224).

laptopbeardboyWhat to do? The authors advise: “A letter notifying you that you have been placed on the wait list includes a postcard asking whether you wish to stay on the wait list..if the wait list college is still an appealing option, you may wish to respond positively knowing your chance of moving from the waitlist is low… You should also inquire about a college’s policy regarding financial aid for students admitted from the wait list…Make sure you send a deposit to one of the colleges where you have been accepted outright by the May 1 deadline.” (Springer et al, p. 226). Dr. Allen Grove offers advice about showing one’s continued interest in communication with the admissions office in his about.com post, “How to Get Off a Wait List.”

waitinlineA college wait list is not like airline passengers flying standby, so it is impossible to know where your “place in line” is. Remember, an admissions committee’s goal is to “create a class” that is diverse and well-balanced. “So as openings occur, a college may examine the whole freshman class, along with geographic, gender, racial and many other dimensions and fill any perceived gaps.” (Springer et al, pp. 226-227). If the college is still your son or daughter’s first choice, advise her to express her interest to her guidance counselor and communicate it directly with admissions as well. But make sure that a deposit is sent in by May 1 to a school your student would very much like to attend which has outright admitted him or her. Wait lists are also a long shot; your senior needs to de-invest emotionally in the wait list school, and wrap his or her mind around the most likely outcome.

moneyfrommailbox2. The financial package offered by your student’s first choice school is not what your family expected. The authors advise: “Once you have all your acceptance and financial aid offers, you may also want to make your top-choice school aware of any offer that is significantly large than the one it sent you if the difference in the aid packages may affect your final choice. Also make its admissions staff aware of any changes in your financial situation that might increase your eligibility for aid. Courteously requesting a financial aid review…is both appropriate and smart. Be prepared, of course, for a negative answer.” (Springer et al, p. 227).

welcomestudents3. Your son or daughter does not have a clear first choice. This may be especially true if admission has been denied at his or her original first choice school. Now he or she must decide between two or three schools that had not been considered “as seriously” before (or perhaps not even visted). Fortunately, most colleges host special visit days or weekends for accepted students before May 1. Even if your teen has visited the campus before, this is a great opportunity to see what it may be like to attend that college. He or she will be courted, without the pressure of wondering, “Could I get in here?” Accepted students attend clases, stay overnight in a dorm, and go to sports or performing arts events. I offer some specific steps for consideration during these visits in my post, Admitted Students Day: A Different Kind of College Visit.

These weekends will help your teen make a decision, as well as offering the opportunity to celebrate the wonderful choices he or she has earned through hard work in high school. A happy rite of passage. Enjoy!